Welfare in Canada

Last updated: November 2020

This resource is not intended to help individuals identify what government transfers they could be entitled to. Individuals living in British Columbia seeking financial assistance should visit this page.

Components of welfare incomes

In British Columbia, households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for other financial support, including:

  • Recurring additional social assistance payments (for example, an annual back-to-school allowance);
  • Federal and provincial child benefits (for households with children);
  • The GST/HST credit and credit supplements; and
  • Provincial tax credits or benefits.

Together, these combine with basic social assistance payments to form a household’s total welfare income. Households may receive less if they have income from other sources, or more if they have special health- or disability-related needs.The table below shows the value and components of welfare incomes for four example household types in 2019. All four households are assumed to be living in Vancouver. The child in the single parent family is aged two, and the children in the couple household are aged 10 and 15.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Basic social assistance$8,970$14,051$12,997$15,313
Additional SA benefits$35$659$80$365
Federal child benefits  $6,568$11,083
Provincial child benefits  $660 
GST/HST credit$287$363$725$876
Provincial tax credits/benefits$220$220$365$525
Total 2019 income$9,512$15,293$21,394$28,162

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Download the data in a table

Total annual welfare incomes in 2019 ranged from $9,512 for a single person considered employable to $28,162 for a couple with two children.

Three of the example household types received Income Assistance benefits; the single person with a disability received Disability Assistance benefits. In April 2019, Income Assistance and Disability Assistance benefits increased by $50 per month.

On top of basic social assistance, all four households received additional social assistance benefits as shown in the table. All households received an annual Christmas Supplement. The couple with two children received an annual School Start-Up Supplement of $100 for the 10-year-old and $175 for the 15-year-old. The person with a disability received the $624 Transportation Supplement (which recipients could choose to receive as a bus pass issued through the BC Bus Pass Program or as a $52 per month payment intended to assist with transportation costs).

Both households with children received the Canada Child Benefit, which increased with inflation in July 2019 from $541 to $553.25 per month for a child under 6 years of age and from $457 to $466.83 per month for a child aged 6 to 17. The single parent household received the BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit, which provided a monthly, tax-free benefit of up to $55 per child under age 6.

All four households received the GST/HST credit, which increased in July 2019 with inflation. The single person considered employable and the single person with a disability both received $287, while the single parent with one child received $574 and the couple with two children received $876. The single person with a disability also received $76.01 through the GST/HST credit supplement, while the single parent received the full amount of $151.

All four households also received the BC Sales Tax Credit and the BC Low Income Climate Action Tax Credit. The maximum BC Low Income Climate Action Tax Credit increased in July 2019, from $135 annually to $154.50 for each adult and the first child in a single parent family, and from $40 to $45.50 for any additional children.

 

Changes to welfare incomes

The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the four example household types have changed over time. The values are in constant 2019 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index.

Download the data in a table

  • Welfare incomes for a single person considered employable and a single person with a disability have followed a similar pattern. After an overall increase between the mid-1980s and 1994, welfare incomes declined in value between 1994 and 2016, with a brief increase in the mid-2000s. Since 2016, welfare incomes have increased notably.

  • The total welfare incomes of both a single person considered employable and a single person with a disability rose in 2019 as a result of an increase to basic social assistance benefits in April 2019.

  • In 2019, a single person considered employable received $9,512 which, despite recent increases, remains below the 1994 peak. In 2019, a single person with a disability received $15,293, the highest level in the time series.

Download the data in a table

  • Welfare incomes for households with children increased in value through the 1980s and early 1990s but declined between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. Despite small increases in the mid-2000s, welfare incomes gradually declined again until 2014. Changes to child benefits caused welfare incomes to increase between 2015 and 2018. In 2019, welfare incomes continued to rise; this was primarily due to an increase to basic social assistance rates.

  • In 2019, a single parent with one child received $21,394, and a couple with two children received $28,162, slightly below the 1994 peak.

 

Adequacy of welfare incomes

The adequacy of a household’s total welfare income can be assessed by comparing it to a set threshold of low income. In Canada, there are three commonly used measures:

  1. The official poverty measure, the Market Basket Measure (MBM), identifies households whose disposable income is less than the cost of a basket of goods and services that represent a basic standard of living.
  2. The Low Income Measure (LIM) identifies households whose income is substantially below what is typical in society (less than half of the median income).
  3. The Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) identifies households that are likely to spend a disproportionately large share of their income on the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter.

The table below shows how welfare incomes for the four example household types compared to the three low-income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold used for each is for Vancouver.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Total welfare income$9,512$15,293$21,394$28,162
MBM    
MBM threshold (Vancouver)$24,914$24,914$35,234$49,829
Welfare income minus MBM threshold-$15,402-$9,621-$13,840-$21,667
Welfare income as % of MBM38%61%61%57%
LIM    
LIM threshold (Canada-wide)$24,642$24,642$34,850$49,285
Welfare income minus LIM threshold-$15,131-$9,350-$13,456-$21,123
Welfare income as % of LIM39%62%61%57%
LICO    
LICO threshold (Vancouver)$21,899$21,899$26,653$41,406
Welfare income minus LICO threshold-$12,387-$6,606-$5,259-$13,244
Welfare income as % of LICO43%70%80%68%

Download the data in a table

The maximum 2019 welfare income of all four example household types was below, and sometimes far below, the thresholds of all three low-income measures. Households with children had incomes closer to the thresholds than single persons.

The lowest income relative to the thresholds was that of a single person considered employable, whose total income was between 38 per cent and 43 per cent of the low-income thresholds. The highest was that of a single parent with one child, whose welfare income was between 61 and 80 per cent of the low-income thresholds. A single person with a disability had an income of between 61 and 70 per cent of the thresholds. The income of a couple with two children was lower, at between 57 and 68 per cent of the thresholds.

Given that the MBM is Canada’s official poverty measure, and that having an income less than 75 per cent of the MBM is classified as “deep poverty,” all four of the example households would have been living in deep poverty in 2019.

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